Travel across the Atlantic Ocean with us as we learn more about holidays (celebrated in January) in one of the only non-European-colonized African countries, Ethiopia! Lucky for us though, January is warm with little rainfall.
Fast Before the Feast!
Tsome Nebiyat, (Fast of the Prophets), is a special advent that begins on November 25th and lasts for the next 43 days until Christmas.
Fun fact about Ethiopia, they don’t celebrate Christmas in December like most other countries. But we’ll talk about that later!
Only one vegan meal is traditionally eaten each day of Tsome Nebiyat. For the duration of the fast, Ethiopians are not permitted to eat meat, dairy, eggs and wine.
Men and boys participate in ganna, a game played with a curved stick and round wooden ball, a bit like what we know as hockey!
Different Calendars, Different Christmas
January 7th marks the end of Tsome Nebiyat, meaning it’s time to celebrate Ganna, the Ethiopian Christmas!
Ganna is a strictly religious occasion in Ethiopia, with its own unique traditions and celebrations separate from the non-central idea of gift-giving.
As the country still follows the ancient Julian calendar, which is traditionally 13 days behind the Georgian calendar, Ethiopia has different months and celebrates Christmas on January 7th like many other orthodox churches around the world.
Most Ethiopians celebrate Christmas by attending church services. Everyone is given a candle, then walks around the church 3 times in a solemn procession.
The spatial layout of the church is significant, as it is separated into rings. After the processions, the attendees enter the second ring and remain standing, with the men and boys separated from the women and girls.
The centre circle is the most important, holy place in the church and is where the priest delivers the Mass and Holy Communion, while the choir encompasses the attendees in their song from the outer circle.
Aside from the big-city residents who might dress in ‘western’ clothes, churchgoers are dressed from head to toe in white, aside from the traditional Netela garment.
The Netela is a thin, white cotton piece of cloth with brightly coloured stripes across the ends and can be styled as both a shawl or toga, that serves as the traditional dress for numerous public holidays and festive occasions within the country.
Church mass begins on Gahad of Christmas (Christmas Eve) at 6 pm and wraps up at approximately 3 am on Christmas Day. You will hear lots of chanting and singing throughout the country, with many people doing a “church-hop” on foot to take part in various services!
Fun fact: It is said that one of the Three Wise Men who visited Jesus came from Ethiopia!
Threes a Party, Literally!
12 days later on January 19th, the Ethiopians have another major celebration!
Timkat, a three day celebration of the baptism of Jesus, sees children dressed in crowns and robes of their church youth groups, and then walk to the nearby church in a procession.
Adults wear their Netelas, the traditional garment of thin white cotton cloth with brightly coloured stripes across the ends, with priests wearing red and white robes while carrying embroidered fringed umbrellas.
Throughout the duration of the Timkat, men participate in a sport called yeferas guks. Played on horseback, players compete by throwing ceremonial lances at each other.
Musical instruments played throughout the procession are what really make this a festive event! Sistrums, a percussion instrument with tinkling metal disks (sort of like a vertical tambourine), is one of the most popular instruments that will be played.
Priests use a long T-shaped prayer stick called a makamiya are used to keep the rhythm of the music and as a stick to lean on during the lengthy church services of Timkat!
It is important to distinguish that, contrary to what we are familiar with in North America as a largely materialistic holiday season, there are hardly gifts given or received during Ganna and Timkat! Children will sometimes receive a small gift of clothes from their family, but the holidays are more for attending church, eating delicious food and playing games!
The Feast After The Fast
Following the conclusion of Tsome Nebiyat, Ethiopians treat themselves to some delicious traditional food.
Wat, a thick and spicy stew that contains meat, vegetables and sometimes eggs, takes centre stage with its delicious flavours.
This wholesome stew is eaten on a plate of ‘injera’, a flatbread sourdough, served with a side of delicious Ethiopian honey wine, Tej.
Pieces of injera are actually used as edible spoons to enjoy the wat.
Ethiopia and Road Coffee
Like all of our products, Road Coffee prides itself on our hand-crafted coffee and deep relationships with farmers in developing countries.
This Ethiopian light roast coffee will surely take you on a wild adventure!
Our delicate and delightful Ethiopia coffee will tempt your tastebuds with it’s floral, citrus, sweet and clean taste, and awaken the dreamer in you.
Author: Jordan Calladine